When the new Stuart House opens in the fall, every detail of its design and construction will have been considered through the eyes of a child. “Often as architects we present a vision for a structure, but here we are creating a warm and welcoming environment for children that will make them feel cared for and safe,” says Andy Cohen, co-CEO of Gensler, the project’s design architects. “There are no big, overwhelming spaces, and every detail — from the exterior to the interior — has been carefully thought through.”
The new 19,000-square-foot building is considerably larger than Stuart House’s original 5,400-square-foot facility. With three stories above ground and a lower level, it will meet the needs of more than 650 children annually.
The project — undertaken on a limited budget and expedited two-year schedule — was no small feat, says consulting design architect Marc Appleton, of Appleton Partners LLP. “How do you build a fairly contemporary building, given the ambitious needs inside, and scale it down to something that is more domestic and less institutional?” Appleton asks. “That was the major challenge.”
A child’s first impression of Stuart House is essential to the child’s healing and sense of safety. The exterior of Stuart House is in the Spanish Colonial Revival style and includes elements such as a round window on the top story and a quatrefoil plaster relief — a stylized abstraction that looks like a flower with four petals — on the building’s side exterior. Both are common elements in Spanish architecture. The building has been scaled to feel closer to a home than an institutional setting, and it blends well with other buildings in the neighborhood near UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica.
Children entering Stuart House will walk under a portico, a symbol of shelter and protection. Bordering the front doors are white and blue metallic ceramic tiles with an infinity design; the tiles belonged to Appleton’s grandmother, who brought them from Spain in the early 1920s for her home in Santa Barbara, and were donated by Appleton. “We wanted something special at the Stuart House front door that would also be in keeping with the architecture,” Appleton says. Upon entry, children feel the warmth of washed oak wood, which is used on the floors and doors throughout the building.
Appleton and his wife, actress Joanna Kerns, have long been supporters of The Rape Foundation. When Appleton was asked to assist as consulting architect on the new building for Stuart House, or, as he describes it, “to literally help provide the foundation for this program,” he was honored and donated his services pro bono. Gensler also donated about three-fourths of its services. UCLA provided the land near the hospital, and The Rape Foundation is funding the building’s construction through contributions to its Stuart House Capital Campaign.
Similar to the blue in the infinity tile from Appleton’s grandmother, a special Stuart House blue — akin to sky blue — was created to use inside the facility’s various rooms. “We looked at color theory from a healing perspective,” says Dianne Krauss, interior-design architect with Gensler, “and learned that certain colors have healing properties.” Skylights and windows throughout the building add natural light. Curated art strategically placed on each floor will enhance the child’s experience. “We’ve designed the space so the background is light and will illuminate the artwork,” Krauss says.
The furniture in Stuart House will have soft, rounded edges, and the reception desk is built lower to the ground, to meet a child’s eye level. The first floor includes a large child/family waiting room hosted by trained volunteers who engage children in art projects and other activities. Beyond the entry are two specialized child forensic interview rooms equipped with state-of-the-art recording equipment and adjacent observations rooms with one-way mirrors that enable law enforcement and child-protection personnel to observe the interviews. The new building also increases the space to house additional multiagency child-protection professionals, including police, prosecutors and personnel from the Department of Children and Family Services who work as a team to support and protect abused children.
The second floor is dedicated to trauma-informed treatment services for sexually abused children and their families, including crisis services and longer-term child/family therapy needed to treat the profound trauma of childhood sexual abuse. For the first time, Stuart House will have spaces devoted to play therapy for younger children, art therapy and group therapy, all of which foster resilience in children and their families. The third floor is dedicated to training and education, including a new training center for first responders in child-abuse cases and a special room for Court School, which is equipped with mock courtroom furniture to help children who will testify in criminal proceedings prepare for the courtroom experience.
“Stuart House really needed this new facility to be built to respond to a pressing need to serve a greater number of sexually abused children throughout the Los Angeles community,” Appleton says. “From an architectural standpoint, it was a very ambitious program because what is unique and innovative about the Stuart House model is that it brings together so many different disciplines and functions and diverse community agencies — police officers, prosecutors, therapists and child advocates. The ‘compass’ that guided everyone involved helped us to look at the entire project — the architecture, art and interior design — through the eyes of children.
Adds Cohen: “By implementing Gensler’s ‘Soul-Centered Design Strategies,’ we changed the paradigm to create a large building that is both child-friendly and will enhance the health and well-being of the children and families being served.”